House Republicans overplay their hand on Libya

House Speaker John Boehner talks to the press following a political strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 14, 2011.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

An ambitious Republican bill to repudiate the president's mission in Libya failed today, 238 to 180, after 89 Republicans and 149 Democrats voted against cutting off funding for hostile activities in Libya.

"The most powerful nation in the world shouldn't stand by while innocent women and children are being mowed down," argued Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison.

Republican leaders took a gamble on the tough legislation, which they crafted after a weaker measure that would have called on the president to halt hostile actions in Libya didn't pass muster with a number of House Republicans at a meeting on Wednesday. But the new bill clearly went a step too far for a significant segment of House Republicans who, while they disapprove of the way the president has handled the conflict in Libya, did not want to cut off funding for troops.

"Don't let a dispute between the legislative branch and executive branch result in us pulling the rug out from standing up for freedom," urged Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R.-Ill. "America has a responsibility to finish this through."

Anti-war Democrats who might have been willing to vote for the weaker resolution were also reluctant to sign on to the bill, and in the end only 36 voted yes. Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich was one of them, noting in his floor speech that "I have been all over this country, and I haven't had a single person come up to me to tell me you know, Dennis, what America needs is another war!"

Neither measure had a chance of passing the Democratically-controlled Senate, and both were primarily designed to send a message of disapproval to President Obama, who many members from both sides believe did not adequately consult with Congress about the Libya mission.

"There are a lot of bad guys in the world, and if we start picking them off one at a time we will be at war with most of the world," contended Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.

Member after member complained that the president has failed to answer a number of basic questions about the operation there.

"Why is removing Qaddafi a part of this mission? What if he doesn't leave? Who are the rebels that we're there helping to fight? How long is this going to last and at what cost and what does success look like?" asked House Speaker John Boehner, R.-Ohio.

Despite the surprise defeat of the legislation, Republicans put a positive spin on the day's events, noting that a bill that would have funded the Libya operation for a year also failed. "Taken together, these votes illustrate the unfortunate failure of the White House to make the case for this operation to the American people and the Congress," said Michael Steel, a spokesperson for Boehner.

  • Nancy Cordes On Twitter»

    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.

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